Boy was it great to see the Discovery make a safe lift-off the other day. Here's to a successful mission and a safe return.
However, the constant front page updates on every little detail of the trip seem a bit over the top; the shuttle is getting the kind of coverage our press usually reserves for missing white women. That got me thinking about manned (or for you more sensitive types, "mynned") space flight and NASA. Nothing generates good publicity like the successful launching of a shuttle, and there's nothing like good publicity to ensure that NASA remains better funded than any of them pointless government programs aimed at helping - gasp - people.
Space exploration is awesome. It expands our understanding of the universe, boosts our national morale, gives us cool screen savers, and provides a wonderful marketing vehicle for crappy products such as Tang. (I, for one, am glad I can't get no Tang 'round here.) But why do we have to send people into space? Unmanned space exploration is way cheaper, offers a much greater range of study options (you'd have to hold your breath a really long time to stay on Mars as long as the rovers have), and usually doesn't kill anyone but the homeless people who are sleeping on the launching platform for warmth.
I know, there are valid reasons to send humans into space. But are any of them worth the risking of human life? Why not spend a couple decades sending up probes while also developing safer, cheaper, better vehicles for humans? Let's thin the gravy train to Boeing and Lockheed et al.; if people want to send up a human, let them start a charity and see how much money they can raise.
Last thing. Remember how, after the tragedy of '03, they spent a zillion dollars investigating the problem and designing solutions? Didn't work. Even with the Discovery still up in the sky, NASA has announced they will once again ground shuttles, for the same foam problem they had in '03.